A handicap race in horse racing is a race in which horses carry different weights, allocated by the handicapper. A better horse will carry a heavier weight, to give it a disadvantage when racing against slower horses.
The skill in betting on a handicap race lies in predicting which horse can overcome its handicap. Although most handicap races are run for older, less valuable horses, this is not true in all cases; some great races are handicaps, such as the Grand National steeplechase in England and the Melbourne Cup in Australia. In the United States over 30 handicap races are classified as Grade I, the top level of the North American grading system.
Handicapping in action
In a horse handicap race (sometimes just called "handicap"), each horse must carry a specified weight called the impost, assigned by the racing secretary or steward based on factors such as past performances, so as to equalize the chances of the competitors. To supplement the combined weight of jockey and saddle, up to the assigned impost, lead weights are carried in saddle pads with pockets, called lead pads.
The weight-for-age scale was introduced by Admiral Rous, a steward of the Jockey Club. In 1855 he was appointed public handicapper. In Britain the horses are assigned weights according to a centralised rating system maintained by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA). Weights may be increased if a horse wins a race between the publication of the weights and the running of the contest.
Predicting the outcome of races
In the USA, (thoroughbred) handicapping may also refer to the act of predicting and betting on horse racing.